The Denver Broncos have come in to the 2012 NFL season with what seems to be a target on their back from the schedule makers. The next test will come in Foxboro this Sunday when they match up with the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Both teams may only be coming into the game at 2-2, but this past week, the offenses exploded while assuring the league that the times may be a-changing. Both teams amassed over 500yds total offense while the Broncos beat the Oakland Raiders 37-6 and the Patriots whipped the Buffalo Bills 52-28.
Quite impressive when it comes to offenses that are quite different from a year ago. Most might be inclined to say that this is a rematch of last year’s AFC Divisional playoff game in which the Patriots won handedly 45-10 against a Tim Tebow-led offense. Nothing could be farther than the truth. This year, Head Coach John Fox leads his Broncos into a showdown with Head Coach Bill Belichek, QB Tom Brady and a Patriots team that has some subtle differences themselves. With a new-found explosiveness generated by his very own Hall of Fame QB, Peyton Manning, a bevy of talented receivers and a workhorse of a running back, the Patriots are sure to be aware of the transition the Broncos have made and how their weapons are many.
The difference in this game will be whether or not the Patriots remain committed to their run game which seemed to resurrect itself against the Bills with 247 yds behind Brandon Bolden and Stephen Ridley. These two runners seemed to find their holes and exploit the Bills terrible tackling. The Broncos are a more formidable run defense and it will need all the help it can get from the linebacking unit. The Broncos allow an average of 87.5 rushing yards/game and if they can hold the Patriots around that, then they will have every opportunity to win. Both teams will need their QBs to take control as the Patriots themselves have a stout run defense that only allows 85.3 yds/game.
The big difference in this game is that the Broncos come in with the 13th ranked pass defense while the Patriots are ranked 25th. The additions of Mike Adams, Tracy Porter and having Chris Harris back in the game will be edge for the Broncos. New England will not be able to embarrass the Broncos like they did in January as this should be quite the test of wills between Manning and Brady. That is where Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker may turn out to be the difference.
Welker has been his usual self the past two weeks, and Gronkowski is one of the best TEs in the game. Aaron Hernandez is questionable with his ankle injury, and will most likely be a game-time decision. The Broncos will be relieved if they only have to deal with a one headed monster that is Gronkowski. The linebacking unit will be tested time and again and will have a better staff on hand with the return of middle linebacker Joe Mays returning from a one game suspension.
Defensively, the Patriots must be able to stop RB Willis McGahee and the playmaking abilities of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. I see both teams even in the RB and WR positions, but defensive capabilities give the edge to the Broncos. Clearly, the Patriots have the better TE and QB at this point, but Manning has clearly showed that he can make the plays when needed, and TEs Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreesen have been solid. This is the 13th time that Brady and Manning have squared off with the Patriots winning nine of those games. The Broncos hold the edge during the Belichek era winning six of eleven. These two teams, however, may be more evenly matched than one might think. While the Broncos are finding their rhythm, they must be able to prevent Brady and co. from getting into their own.
BroncosRants will preview the positions more closely during the week. For now, I will go out on a limb and predict: Denver 38 New England 35
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